February Round Up: Greens & Barnes, Chirimoya, John Law New Congregation

Amidst a busy few weeks, mandatory infusions of live jazz have kept me going. Three episodes offered different delights.  Two Greens (Barry and Dave) and Alan Barnes formed an impromptu trio on a Friday night at London’s Vortex Club. This was a balm to the soul gig.  Pianist Barry and bass legend Dave are not blood relations, but they’ve had a close musical relationship over years, recording a delightful duo album of mainly Alex Wilder tunes a few years back (check here ).  A ripple of a piano chord and an abstract flutter from Barnes, a perfectly placed harmonic or sonorous pedal note from the bass was all it took to launch some tunes as another lesser known gem from the standards book unfolded. The trio format gave them all plenty of space and freedom for playful interchange and fluent, emotional expression. A Friday night treat.

Dropping into Bristol’s Alma Tavern on a Sunday night for a set by Chirimoya had a different, no less enjoyable flavour. Singer and percussionist Tammy Payne has put together a band and repertoire that re-makes the most unlikely source material with a pulsing latin/ Brazilian vibe. Its great fun and beautifully balanced.  What do you need for a storming latin groove? Well Ruth Hammond‘s left hand on the keys, Matt Jones on drums and a few well judged stabbed chords from Ruth’s right hand. Tammy’s vocals, a Bristol treasure since the eighties and Smith and Mighty, glide over the groove with Beyonce, Bronski Beat, Jimi Hendrix all offering up repertoire. They started with a taught grooving Round Midnight and Gary Aylesbrook‘s liquid, melodic lines on trumpet sketching out the familiar theme.  Great fun.

I wrote about John Law’s New Congregation ahead of their BeBop Club gig and the event didn’t disappoint. Word was out and The Bear’s back room was packed, standing room only at the back. The musical territory was the same as the album even if more than half the tunes were not, there’s a continuing flow of new tunes from the leader’s pen. What stood out even more than on the album was the strength of the melodic hooks. Rythmically dense and complex the music may be, but the peer-less musicians, (Laurie Lowe on drums and Yuri Goloubev on bass are surely hard to top as rhythm section) negotiated it at will and played beautifully and freely.  Sam Crockatt on tenor was outstanding, never overplaying, his developing phrases and hooks glowed and took flight, delivered with a rough edged warm tone.  Another Friday night treat.


Gilad Atzmon/ Alan Barnes, The Hen and Chicken, Sunday 24th January

Blib-Blob may have summed it up. The blistering bebop-ish theme twisted and leapt through the rhythm changes sequence, tenor (Gilad Atzmon) and alto (Alan Barnes) locked together. The groove though, was a self-consciously heavy handed, funky shuffle injecting a subversive flavour into the passionate blowing, a riotously serious delivery that pervaded the whole evening.  This was Atzmon and Barnes with Atzmon’s regular, equal to and up for anything rhythm section of Frank Harrison on piano, Yaron Stavi on bass and Chris Higinbottom on drums.

Pairing two primarily alto players of the prodigious fluency of these two might have signalled a touring ‘cutting contest’.  The swagger and competitive blowing was tongue in cheek though, entertaining fire-works, less than half the story and wrapped around with plenty of self-deprecating and, courtesy of Atzmon, shoulder shruggingly bawdy humour.

The array of instruments across the front of the stage appeared in a variety of File 25-01-2016, 21 32 40combinations. They’d kicked off with a funkily swinging groover, Barnes on baritone and Atzmon on alto duties before Blib Blob. Then a see-sawing, plaintive melody rendered by soprano and clarinet over a loping groove conjured a different mood.  The fire-works started again with twin altos on a gloriously free-wheeling Alone Together, Barnes’ dazzling melodic invention contrasting with Atzmon’s fiery attack that veered off into a frenetic modal work out.  Blomard changed the mood again with bass clarinet and clarinet combining on a melancholic bossa.  Expectations of high octane blowing were inevitable and they weren’t disappointed, but the light and shade and evocative moods added an extra dimension.

The ‘marquee names’ may have been the draw but delightfully, for this listener, Frank Harrison kept threatening to demand at least equal billing.  Time and again after a gale force blast from Atzmon, or dancing, whirling workout from Barnes, a beautifully judged shimmer and hanging phrase from Higginbottom and Stavi would set the scene for the pianist to build and develop solos that were full of invention, poetry and excitement.  The second set saw him set up two ballads to perfection, Atzmon and Barnes getting through four instruments between them (tenor, alto, bass-clarinet clarinet) on Old Folks , a bit of a show-stopper – ‘for you’ quipped Barnes, risking his life, nodding at the audience).  A thunderous groove and a grand finale on Spring in New York brought the house down and prompted another subverted be-bop tune with Donna-Lee at break neck tempo over a crunching rocky vibe.

Gilad Atzmon may have insisted they were called Lowest Common Denominator, but no-one in the once again packed out Hen & Chicken were in any doubt that they’d heard top class, committed, exuberantly entertaining jazz.


October Moments: Another Barnes storming night at the Vaults and Andy Hague’s big birthday celebrated with a big band

Alan Barnes? He’s not bad, but after half an hour his playing does your head in – at least that the verdict of Barnes’ daughter Alan_Barnes_Press_Photo_XL01Moll as related by the man himself, introducing the tune he wrote for her.  It was more than half an hour into the first set and the signs were that the audience in a packed St. James Wine Vaults didn’t entirely share the verdict, judging by the whoops, cheers and sighs greeting the swerve through Barnes’ huge repertoire.   There’d been plenty of overt Charlie Parker references and a blistering take of The Song is You  (“… lets the get the fast one out of the way to show we can..” quipped Barnes), but a stand-out was an enchanting reading of Alice in Wonderland all wispy phrases and oblique phrasing demanding attention in a less overt way.   It was another bravura performance for what has become a regular visit from Barnes to the Vaults. The  energy seemed to flow back and forth between audience and band. With guests of Barnes’ quality,  the regular house trio of Wade Edwards, Vyv Hope Scott and Trevor Davies always seem to find something extra and different as they rise to the occasion. Jazz at the Vaults may be in its tenth year, but the longevity seems to consolidating the popularity of the fortnightly slot – long may it continue!

Earlier in the month, Andy Hague, trumpeter, drummer, BeBop Club head cook and newly AndyHagueturned 50 year old, celebrated his own longevity with a birthday bash in the shape of a Big Band assembled for the occasion performing his charts.  Some were freshly minted, some dusted down crackers and a few re-worked old ones. Manic Molluscs started with a workout from long-time sparring partner Jim Blomfield on piano and a gutsy tenor solo from Jake McMurchie. There was a big turn-out to cheer on a band of Bristol’s finest and Andy’s Friday Night at the BeBop Club gave them a chance to get whooping with a fiery solo from Ben Waghorn on the crisply swinging hard bop vibe. There were stylistic nods in all sorts of directions and the assembled talent did Andy proud. There’s not just life in the old dog, he might just be hitting his stride on this showing.

Alan Barnes/ Dave Newton, The Hen and Chicken, Sunday 12th April

Barnes&NewtonIf Alan Barnes is to be believed, and caution is surely advisable given the occasional scatalogical departures in his legendary repartee, he and Dave Newton have been playing much of their repertoire for nearly 40 years since they first met as students. As they ripped into Art Pepper’s Chili Pepper at a blistering tempo, no counting in just Barnes’ liquid flurry of arpeggios to set the tempo, Newton’s chords instantly catching every accent of the quintessentially be-bop theme, there was no doubting the near telepathic nature of the musical partnership.  ‘He’s been taking care of the chords for most of my adult life’ quipped Barnes at one point in the evening, lauding Newton’s playing  and it’s hard to overstate the pianist’s visceral driving energy, coupled with a protean fluency whether with locked hands embellishing chord sequences or fizzing runs over an implacably grooving left hand bass-line. The one man rhythm section frequently seemed to fire himself up as the momentum built behind another dynamic solo.   It wasn’t all fire and brimstone.  Alan Barnes, gags about playing the same stuff in a different octave aside, evoked different moods and voices switching between alto, baritone and clarinet as we were quietly shepherded through a masterclass in repertoire and styles stretching from 20s writers like Don Redman, Gee Baby I Love You getting a through Newton workover, through to Hard bop master Cedar Walton with a thoroughly gospelly account of I’ll Let You Know and lingering over Barnes’ beloved Strayhorn, the quivering, final note of Lotus Blossom from the Baritone a heart stopping moment.  These two musicians have spent their professional lives absorbing and absorbed in the writing and  language of swing, big bands and be-bop onwards and its become their own language of expression.  There were laughs, joyfulness, pain and melancholy for sure. And a hugely entertaining evening greeted with roars of approval as they burned out on Cottontail at an implausible tempo.

Barne(S)torming at the Vaults and freshly minted at the Fringe: A week in the west

Two Thursdays, two gigs, two locally run, promoted and sustained club nights. St. James Wine Vaults saw another visit from Alan Barnes a week ago. The itinerant jazzman extraordinaire, who appears at local gigs like this in between high profile gigs with a who’s who of jazz (and pop .. .pace Bryan Ferry) was on sizzling form for this, his third or fourth visit to the Vaults to put the host Jazzhouse Trio through their paces.  The Jazz at the Vaults session is well established (subject of frequent loud cheers on this blog), Bristol’s Fringe Bar session is a relative newcomer, celebrating its first birthday on the 3rd October of weekly Thursday night gigs in the tiny back room of the bar in Clifton’s Princess Victoria Street. The predominantly local casting doesn’t mean any compromise on quality. Andy Sheppard is using a break in touring with Carla Bely and Steve Swallow to fit in (yet another) couple of gigs with the Pushy Doctors in late October. It does mean that some local talent with original music is getting exposure in a great context. This week it was pianist Andy Christie bringing a set of his originals and a band more than equal to the subtle twists, turns and sideways shifts of resonant, sometimes angular harmony and themes.

It would be fair to say Barnsey stormed the Vaults. As I watched him initiate the encore with an unaccompanied, dazzling shower of notes, all leaps, chromaticisms  and arpeggios and fleeting references to any number of themes written for the changes of ‘I got Rythmn’, a few thoughts jostled for position. First I wondered, did he bustle in to meet the house band earlier and say ‘get yer be-bop chops out lads’?  They were certainly needed and they joined in on cue in that encore, Vyv Hope Scott in particular seemed to be on fire and revved up the Barnes stimulus. The main thought, accompanied by a visceral emotional charge, was that stylistic mannerisms faded away as there was no dodging the passion, tinged with melancholy of the guest’s playing. It’s a mark of his class that  what ever he’s playing , what comes through is the sense of some telling you something about themselves, with numerous erudite asides, no matter what the tempo or how many off the wall gags have people chuckling as he starts playing.  It wasn’t a packed house, but there were plenty there to savour the moment.

If the Vaults was treated to a masterclass in standards, the Fringe got a set of original tunes from the pen of the pianist leader Andy Christie. AndyChristie_FringeThere were even quavered pulses under shifting chords, an affecting sinuous melody over a waltz, a light samba-ish feel anchoring more dark harmonies and hints of an afro 12/8 rythmn in the melody of another tune with a quick burst of astandard (Autumn in York?).  This was a really appealing set with a strong identity and writing.  The fierce concentration of the band hinted at the newness of the venture but there was no hiding the quality in the band.  Nick Dover in particular on tenor deployed a gorgeous tone and a sure footed melodic sense building real tension and swooping lines through the complex progressions. Jon Short on bass and Greg White on drums were a propulsive force behind everything. A band to watch and enjoy at hopefully more future outings.  A thoroughly satisfying outing and another shout to a great local club (website here) and it’s tireless organiser Jon Taylor.  And to complete this little circuit – Nick Dover is in action again on October 4th at the Vaults as the guest of the Jazz House Trio.

Alan Barnes, St. James Wine Vaults; Jonathan Gee, Colston Hall2 – 13th & 16th October

Life, other work anda fair bit of my own playing have all reduced blogging to a trickle of late.  A quick round up is in order of the two gigs as a punter in the last week, contrasting but both very satisfying. First Alan Barnes at the Vaults last week guesting with the regular Jazzhaus Trio of Vyv Hope Scott on piano, Wade Edwards on bass and Trevor Davies on drums. All the Alan Barnes trademarks were on display – the beautifully executed, fluent boppish lines ( we even caught a few Charlie Parker licks quoted more or less verbatim if you can quote verbatim on a saxophone – for anoraks, the first one was from bar 7 &8 of  Parker’s solo on Yardbird Suite).  The repartee was also on display, regular DJ Tony Clark put up a good showing from the home team in this department too: was there a hint of ironic amusement as he highlighted Barnes’ stint with the Pasadena Roof Orchestra in a review of the guest’s CV? Be Bop and classic swinging jazz is the territory the guest inhabits as if to the manor born so there were ‘ah’ moments a -plenty as the fizzing double time runs built excitement in solos or languid melodic lines embellished ballads. The repertoire was classic standards too, staring with Cole Porter’s Everything I Love and taking in Body and Soul, several Ellington classics including the inevitable Caravan, but in these expert hands it never seemed tired. Another coup for the Vaults.

Colston Hall2 on Sunday was the occasion for a very different but equally class act. An Ian Storrer promotion, one of the gigs booked before the Future Inns club finished and happily re-homed (although despite laudable efforts to improve the sound and refurbish Hall2 its not quite as intimate as the old setting).  Jonathan Gee’s trio play full on jazz mainly from a different part of the spectrum than Alan Barnes, although they do dodge about. One moment from early in the second set seemed to sum some of this up. Gee started the second set by singing a couple of standards accompanying himself on piano. A slight crunching of the gears after a first set of uncompromising, dense, largely furious post bop. Larry Bartley (bass) and Shaney Forbes (drums) then joined him on stage. Forbes, hesitated, grinned and confessed to forgetting the music (this was the drummer please note). So whilst he went to get it, Gee launched into ‘I don’t get around much’. After half a chorus, the bass joined (after a verbal prod from Gee), Forbes returned and the resulting de facto arrangement was a gradual gathering of momentum and the trio locked into a gently swinging groove – everyone playing time, no-one beating it out – sizzling with intensity at a very gentle tempo. A sure sign of top class rhythm section. They then returned to the planned set list and it was immediately obvious why the drummer needed the road-map of a chart as they launched into a Bartley composition full of tricky time signatures, stops starts and complex but hooky riffs. This was more representative of the evening, but the soloing was no less fluent. They positively burned on a couple of Monk tunes, a regular source of inspiration for Gee; a high energy, top class gig.

The return of the text messangers, Be Bop Club, Friday 27th May

Grabbing the opportunity presented by them both both tutoring on a jazz weekend course nearby, Andy Hague and Alan Barnes last night  reprised their Text Messanger line-up that played the Be Bop Club a year ago with same team joining them (Jim Blomfield piano, Ben Waghorn, tenor; Thad Kelly, bass) except for mark Whitlam on drums. As before, the glue for the evening was Andy Hague’s seemingly inexhaustible supply of little played tunes by greats  that sound like standards (Lee Morgan’s Something Cute), delightful arrangements of classic standards (Weaver of Dreams, A Train, Here’s that Rainy Day) as well as rescue missions for overplayed ones(Blue Bossa), not to mention material from the more adventurous end of contemporary small band writing (Dave Douglas’ Blue Heaven) and the odd Andy original for good measure.Andy Hague  All this delivered at generally  unhurried tempos apart from the odd burner like Bobby Watson’s ‘In case you missed it’ that closed the second set. There was a real warmth about this gig and but for the occasional grimaces, blowing of cheeks and jokey asides I doubt many in the capacity audience would have twigged this was largely unrehearsed; many of the themes had the sense of big band in the harmony and deftness of echoing, counter lines and backing riffs – not to mention those riotous shout choruses popping up now and then,  delivered by these occasional co-conspirators with apparent effortlessness – apart from those grimaces!  So far so familiar – we’ve come to expect this level of playing from these guys. Last night they did seem particularly on – song no matter that there was the odd tricky corner in the charts. Alan Barnes squawked, honked and squealed in response to some of the denser harmony in Dave Douglas’ composition  before switching to the tenderest fluid reading of Here’s that Rainy Day’s theme. Andy having acquired a beautiful new trumpet a few months back seems to have discovered yet another dimension to his playing. He’s always had a formidable capacity to negotiate and make sense of the most complex of harmony without losing the capacity to groove, last night there was a warmth of tone and and if anything an even more assured weaving of melodic ideas through the changes.  This band are a great reminder that there are plenty of riches to mined in the vocabulary and repertoire of swinging American jazz.